Blacks find few choices for clubs Barbershop, gym among hangouts

August 27, 1998|By Rod Coffee | Rod Coffee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it comes to socializing, Howard County's large contingent of young black professionals often creates happy hours in unlikely places.

"They don't really congregate at any clubs here because there's no place to go," said Eric Boyd, 30, while cutting hair at the Haircutters shop in Columbia. "People wind up coming here to socialize.

"There's plenty of people who come here and sit for hours talking sports, politics and life just because they feel comfortable in the environment."

Though the 1990 census puts Howard County's African-American population at 22,019 -- about 10 percent of the population -- with an average household income of $53,862, there appears to be only one club in the county, Silver Shadows, aimed at tapping that market.

The result is that many Howard County blacks travel to Baltimore or Washington for entertainment, while others appear content with a racially mixed scene that seems part of the original vision for Columbia.

For more than a decade, Silver Shadows in downtown Columbia has served its target market by providing a comfort zone for black patrons.

"The entertainment attracts the people, but the fact that we're a first-class club keeps them coming back," Silver Shadows owner Marsha Weider said of her establishment, which has a dress code and a cover charge of $7 to $10.

Weider says word-of-mouth advertising and the absence of other local clubs aimed at black clientele have worked to her benefit.

"I would definitely say we try to appeal to a black clientele," she said.

Some would say establishments that target specific ethnic groups are not in keeping with the spirit of Columbia because part of the plan of the planned community was to be a racially integrated town.

In many ways that has worked, in social and residential settings. Village Center watering holes such as the Last Chance Saloon and Michael's Pub are important stops on the black and white Columbia social scene.

"Neighborhood pubs have their place because of their location and you know most of the people there," James McClellan said.

McClellan spoke while sitting on a bar stool at Clyde's. One of Columbia's best-known bars and restaurants, it draws a racially mixed crowd.

Clyde's manager James Brown estimates 35 percent of his business comes from black patrons.

"You're going to hear anything from Janet Jackson to Jewel while you're in here," Brown said of the bar's music. "We create a tone here that lets everybody know they're going to be treated well."

Kevin Fitzpatrick is a sports agent who grew up in Howard County. He and his wife, Tracey, an attorney, regularly visit Clyde's.

"There aren't a whole lot of places for us to go and meet other black people, but we don't let it bother us too much. Because we can get to other places in a reasonable amount of time," said Tracey Fitzpatrick.

"We're conditioned to it because we grew up here," Kevin Fitzpatrick said.

At his barbershop, Boyd speculated that's the approach of many of the county's African-Americans -- they head to Baltimore or Washington when seeking black-oriented entertainment.

"Music sets the tone for our lives," Boyd said, listening to a mix of R&B and jazz on the compact disc player at his shop. "And people know that. That's why they're careful not to play stuff that's going to attract a lot of blacks."

Nottingham's, in the growing commercial area of east Columbia near Snowden River Parkway at Route 175, is an after-work hot spot that attracts a diverse crowd.

"We're providing an environment for professional people," manager Brian Kannee said.

"If you're a country bar you attract country people," he said. "We play modern rock and other contemporary music, but we keep the volume low so you barely notice it.

"You attract clientele by what you provide," Kannee said. "We're not targeting a specific group. We try to be as general as we can."

Other options have emerged as alternatives to restaurants and bars as social outlets. Many African-Americans in Howard County say exercising is a good way to meet people.

"People don't really congregate in Howard County, but when they do it's usually at the Supreme Sports Club," Columbia resident Jeff Walker said of the health and exercise club run by the Columbia Association.

Ellicia Shaw, a receptionist at the Haircutters shop, said she hears many complaints about the lack of social options for African-Americans in Howard County and the necessity of driving up or down Interstate 95. She has a traditional substitute.

"When you get off work and want to go to happy hour, you're too tired to drive 30 miles to have a good time and try to unwind," she said. "So, you just go home."

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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